Updated: May 7, 2019
Guest Blog by Kathryn Stagg IBCLC
There is a lot of confusion out there about the different levels of breastfeeding support available to mums and babies. So here’s a simple guide to the breastfeeding support available in the UK.
The first port of call for most new mums when they are experiencing breastfeeding problems are their midwife and then their health visitor or GP. There are many great midwives, health visitors and GPs out there who have lots of experience and breastfeeding knowledge. But it is important to realise that they actually only have basic training unless they have a particular interest in the subject and choose to learn more. UNICEF Baby Friendly training is generally 2-3 days and covers the basics of breastfeeding and breast milk composition, and not all areas are UNICEF Baby Friendly accredited.
The next port of call is often Peer Support groups. Peer Supporters are the backbone of UK breastfeeding support. They are generally mothers who have breastfed their own babies for more than 6 months and can act as a knowledgeable friend. Various different organisations have their version of a Peer Supporter course, but the courses are generally 10-12 x 2 hour sessions and cover basics of breastfeeding, positioning and attachment, milk composition, listening skills and basic counselling.
The next level of breastfeeding support is the Breastfeeding Counsellor. Breastfeeding counsellors are sometimes volunteers and sometimes paid. They run groups, staff the breastfeeding helplines and have regular supervision and updates. Breastfeeding Counsellors have training that is much more in depth and has a strong counsellor element to it. Courses are available from the various different breastfeeding organisations and generally take between 1-2 years to complete. Breastfeeding Counsellors can support with the more challenging problems and generally signpost to evidence based information, and support and empower mums to make informed decisions.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is recognised internationally as the highest level of breastfeeding support and they have very specific training. IBCLCs either come from a health care background such as midwife, nurse or health visitor, or they come from a Breastfeeding Counsellor background which means they have to sit 14 health science related subjects before applying for the exam. They also need to complete 90 hours of lactation specific training and have to have 1000 hours of clinical practice, so that means 1000 hours of breastfeeding support, before being even allowed to apply to sit the exam. Once qualified IBCLCs are required to keep up to date with current research by attending conferences and webinars. They resubmit for their IBCLC certificate after 5 years with proof of attending 75 hours of training and after 10 years they are currently required to re-sit the exam. IBCLCs support mums with more complex issues such as faltering growth, oral assessment, breastfeeding problems, reflux, non-latching baby as well as more straightforward support. IBCLCs are obliged to work according to the IBLCE Code of Professional Conduct and carry full professional insurance. They can work in hospitals, community or private practice.
Please note that there are many people giving breastfeeding advice who describe themselves as a 'Lactation Consultant" or "Breastfeeding Specialist" but do not have the qualifications. Neither of these terms are protected and anybody can set up and offer breastfeeding support. When looking for quality breastfeeding support always ask about qualifications and if you are looking for support from an IBCLC you can check at the IBLCE registry: https://iblce.org/public-registry/
Kathryn Stagg IBCLC and ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor